Hefty toll hikes loom for commuters west of Boston
MetroWest lawmakers were outraged yesterday after hearing upcoming toll hikes may be greater than originally expected.
Under a proposal OK'd 10 years ago, this January toll booths in Allston and Weston would rise from $1 to $1.25, while booths in Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels from $3 to $3.50. The increases were approved to account for $1.4 billion in Big Dig-related debt.
But Massachusetts Turnpike officials are saying increases could be more than initially proposed. Many local lawmakers yesterday said they intend to thwart any plans of further toll increases.
``This just cannot be an option,'' said Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who called the possible increases ``unacceptable.'' Spilka added that ``this is an issue the entire delegation are in 100 percent agreement on.''
She said other options must be considered to pay for the Big Dig debt, like charging more for commercial vehicles. She also emphasized that the jump in toll costs are not set in stone.
Stephen LeDuc, D-Marlborough said the state should look into other ways to save money, instead of adding onto tolls.
In a letter sent yesterday to Bernard Cohen, chairman of the Mass. Turnpike Authority board of directors, LeDuc expressed his dismay.
``Enough is enough,'' LeDuc wrote in the letter. ``We in MetroWest have been arguing against toll increases in general for years.''
MetroWest residents are the ones who shoulder the burden of tolls, said Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland. He said commuters from north and south of Boston don't have to pay to get into the city, while those from the west do.
``This is an issue that's completely fundamentally unfair to the people who live in the MetroWest region,'' said Sannicandro. ``The whole process has been unfair.''
Sannicandro said this is one of those issues that is not political, stating that ``we're all on the same boat.'' Sannicandro said he has filed bills pushing for lower or no toll costs.
Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, was not surprised by talk of a higher toll increase, said Don Siriani, chief of staff to Fargo. Siriani said Fargo requested copies of the Big Dig bond perspectives in 2001. He said Fargo knew the state's plan to pay back the Big Dig debt would lead to pricier tolls.
``This latest news wasn't news to us,'' said Siriani, who expressed Fargo's frustration with the possible increases. ``It's gonna make it very difficult for toll payers. Sen. Fargo certainly has constituents who live on that corridor, certainly that use the turnpike.''
Massachusetts Turnpike Board member Mary Z. Connaughton said the turnpike staff are in the process of crunching the numbers, but she anticipates the increases will be much higher than what was approved in 1997.
``I expect it to be very significant,'' said Connaughton of the toll raise. Connaughton, a resident of Framingham, said the speculated spike is mostly the result of costs related to the Big Dig.
She said, ``To make up for that shortfall, the toll increase will have to be higher than initially contemplated 10 years ago.''
Previous proposals to alleviate toll costs would have prevented this increase, Connaughton said. One of those ideas was too eliminate all toll booths and tack on 9 cents to the gas tax.
Connaughton said the toll hikes should be shifted more toward the tunnels, rather than the Allston and Weston tolls.
``The daily driver going in and out of Boston each day should not be paying,'' said Connaughton.
Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, said in a statement: ``Obviously I am concerned about any toll increase which impacts residents of my district. We in the MetroWest Legislative Delegation have been advocating for our region with respect to this issue and will continue to do so."